I began to get the feeling, after the shooting in Santa Isla, that the patience of Americans to continue to put up with the gun industry’s resistance to any degree of new regulation was coming to an end. Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how, but the meek and almost non-existent comments reminding us about the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment were decidedly less strident than what the industry and their supporters were saying after Sandy Hook. Now I’m not talking about loudmouths like Joe the Plumber, whose rant about the relative importance of his guns versus the unimportance of human life is just a reminder that the 24-hour information cycle will make room for anyone who wants to shoot his/her mouth off, no matter how stupid or uninformed their comments happen to be. I’m talking about the comments from various right-wing politicians who, like Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, refused to explicitly exonerate the gun industry even though her campaign ads show her shooting at a target while a voice-over intones how she’s going to “take aim” at waste in DC.
Yesterday I received a digital letter from the NRA-ILA, which represents the NRA in legislative battles in Washington and in the individual states. The letter didn’t mention the Santa Barbara massacre per se, instead it covered episodes in Texas, where 2nd-Amendment supporters demonstrated their reverence for their Constitutional rights by showing up at Jack in the Box and Chipotle outlets openly carrying AR-15’s. In both cases the restaurant managers told them to take their gun rights out of the stores, which of course provoked the usual flurry of on-line yelling about how the poor gun owner is always misunderstood. But the NRA, to my utter amazement, didn’t side with the idiots who walked into those restaurants waving their AR-15’s. In fact, they characterized the behavior of the gun-toters as “weird,” which is the first time I can ever recall the NRA saying anything negative about any gun owner at all.
But what was really interesting was the explanation given by the NRA for why the behavior of the Texas dopes didn’t add up. And here is what the letter says: “If we exercise poor judgement, our decisions will have consequences. These consequences could be simple and transitory, such as watching a trophy buck bound away into the woods after a missed shot from an improperly sighted rifle. They could also be lasting and consequential, such as turning an undecided voter into an antigun voter because of causing that person fear or offense. In ways small and large, we are all in this together, and we all have a role to play in preserving our cherished freedoms for ourselves and future generations.”
The truth is that if a bunch of raucous kids storm into a Burger King with loaded AR’s, one of the damn things might just go off, which could be a much more “consequential” result of mis-behavior with guns than anything having to do with changing a voter’s mind. But in more than twenty years of listening to the NRA, I have never heard them ever make an appeal that had anything to do with changing or influencing the opinions of people who don’t own guns. The NRA has enlarged and motivated its membership by indefatigably adopting an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ approach to every public discussion about guns. Gun owners are the ‘good guys’ and everyone else is, well, everyone else. Believe me when I tell you that this communication marks a very dramatic change.
I suspect the gun lobby quietly understands that their belligerent and ‘take no prisoners’ approach to talking about gun regulations may be coming to an end. The Republican optimism about the upcoming elections has faded; even Rand Paul is trying to appeal to the mid-stream. For that matter, the great upsurge in gun sales has also come to an end, which doesn’t augur well for continued growth in the membership of the NRA. It will be interesting to see whether they can figure out how to talk to people who don’t bow down and scrape every time the 2nd Amendment is used to excuse bad behavior with guns.